Survive the Long Haul

Not all long-haul flights have to be miserable; a good book can result in “No, no, just a little more time!” when the pilot says time to started our descent. Here are 10 tips for preventing boredom, dehydration, sleep deprivation and more so you can confidently say “I got this” the next time you are imprisoned in a metal tube for an entire waking day or night of your life.

1. Upgrade.
When traveling long-haul, (for me 5 hours or more) you have no better friend on the planet than your frequent flier miles. Also this is the best bang for your buck.  Business class seats are very expensive compared to coach class. Buy the coach class and upgrade with miles.  Or even an extra leg room seat is better than straight economy/coach.
If you stop reading at this point you almost need to know nothing more than this — by hook or crook, try to get an upgrade.
2. Escape.
You will want to have a rock-solid plan for frittering away several hours of your flight, and I don’t mind working; staring at spreadsheets and writing proposals may burn up hours, but it does not make them vanish. You want these hours to disappear almost without a trace. Think headphones and Hollywood blockbusters. Getting a lot of work done is fine — rarely do you have 15 consecutive hours without a phone so I encourage bringing some work — but work will fail you when you get to the brutal middle hours of this ordeal. Headphones and Hollywood; don’t stray from this.

3. Don’t carry on too much stuff.
While checked baggage fees are inspiring travelers to carry on more and more stuff, on a long-haul flight this could hurt you; anything that is under the seat in front of you just means less legroom and a more cramped living space. Don’t bring so much on that you compete for your own sleeping space.
4. Bring your go-to gear.
When it comes to surviving flights, I am not a gear person, but I always take my noise cancelling head set, if only I wish not to talk to my neighbor. I can’t be bothered to lug around neck pillows, eye masks, earplugs, etc. As I note above, your total carry-on haul should be limited, but you may want to consider some of these relatively small survival tools. Your body and brain will thank you for every small comfort you can provide, and the inconvenience of packing and carrying these around is dwarfed by the misery in flight with crying children, pilot announcements, engine noise and a major crick in your neck. Gear up.
5. Board relatively rested.
Don’t count on a long-haul flight as a good place to catch up on sleep — it’s not. As attractive and intuitive as it seems to get on a long-haul flight extremely tired, hoping to sleep the whole way, you are in for a world of hurt if you can’t sleep for some reason. You will be on the plane long enough to catch a few winks even if you are somewhat rested, and my advice is to take it when it comes; if your eyes start to droop, get out the eye covers and earplugs, and go with it.
6. Secure your stuff.
A long-haul flight gives unscrupulous travelers all the more time to size up the location of your wallet, wait until you fall asleep and make a move on your luggage. Secure your valuables deep inside your bags where it would take a TSA X-ray machine to find them. Consider keeping items like your passport, credit cards and cash in a money belt under your clothes.
7. Consider a sleep aid.
If you are planning to use sleep aids (including “natural” methods such as melatonin, or drugs such as Ambien), try them before you fly with them. These drugs can vary greatly in how they affect individuals, so you will want to try them at home.  Ask your doctor for recommendation.
8. Use SeatGuru.
The seating chart advises particular seat situations.  I use it often for my clients, especially in business class. Before you choose, also think hard about your usual preference of window vs. aisle seat; it may be different on a long-haul flight than on a shorter flight. If you usually choose an aisle seat, consider whether you want your long, Ambien-enhanced sleep to be interrupted by a window passenger; similarly, if you usually choose a window, you could get trapped in there by a snoring person in a prescription drug-induced stupor.
9. Ask about seats at the gate.
Failing the ability to choose great seats before your flight, try again at the gate. If the flight is not full, the gate agent may be able to see an empty row, or put you and a traveling partner in a “window and aisle” configuration that reduces the likelihood of having someone sit in the middle seat, thereby getting you a seat and a half, at least.  Sometimes I assign these seats in advance or ‘aisle across’ is another favorite I assign.
10. Take care of your health.
Hydration: If you think hydration is a concern on a cross-country flight, try tripling or quadrupling your time in the air. Airplane air is extremely dry. Many years ago, i brought flowers on board and they dried without wilting! How much water should you bring?  Take an empty refillable bottle through security.  Add the water on the other side.  Then ask for more while flying.
Daily, I drink an “electrolyte solutions” know as Intima, like Gatorade but no calories. Maintaining electrolyte balance is important, and that you don’t want to become completely diluted with water, particularly for older folks or people with other medical problems.
In brief…
– Hydrate well the night before the flight, preferably with electrolyte drinks.
– Don’t drink alcohol the night before the flight or on the flight.
– Avoid diuretics such as coffee, soft drinks and even chocolate (all of which contain caffeine).
– If you have no issue with ulcers, take a baby aspirin the night before and day of your flight.
– Get an aisle seat or exit row so you can get up and walk around whenever possible.
Let’s face it: electrolytes, compression socks, movie after movie, and aspirin don’t change the fact that you are stuck inside a metal can for a whole day or overnight. Just keep reminding yourself that this too shall pass — although I recommend saving your “I got this” until the wheels touch the ground.

About alwaysharriet

With thirty years experience in corporate and leisure travel consulting, Harriet Ahouse has traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean and worldwide. An avid scuba diver, she understands the requirements of travelers both on land and in the water. On the European scene she has offered traditional and personalized travel itineraries throughout the continent--Italy, France, and England are some of her favorites. As a Virtuoso Agent, she also has extensive resources to enhance her expertise in designing individual destination travel itineraries--and honeymoons--worldwide!
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